The Excruciating History of Dentistry


4958 BC          Adam gets the first toothache. Cain tries to extract the tooth, but he isn’t able.


2632                Moses declares, “a tooth for a tooth.” All the dentists get the heck out of town.


432                  A Mayan man has his tooth replaced with a carved shell. His insurance company denies coverage.


52 AD              Scribonius Largus informs Claudius, “If you fumigate your mouth with smoke from burnt hyoscyamus seeds and then rinse with water, small toothworms will be expelled.” Claudius attempts to spit out a response.


76                    Pliny the Elder prescribes a cure for toothache consisting of, “finding a frog in the light of the moon, prying open its mouth and spitting into it, and uttering, ‘Frog, go, and take my toothache with thee.’” And to prevent future toothaches, “bite off the head of a live mouse twice a month.” This prevents toothaches, but only for the mouse.


79                    Pliny the Elder is mercifully buried by volcanic ash.


966                  Abu-al-Qasim Khalaf, an inspired man of Islam, studies calculus and determines that if you get some on your teeth it causes periodontal disease. He scrapes up some tools to clean teeth. This grates on people’s nerves.


988                  Authorities suggest prayer and endurance for toothache pain. They describe a case where a tooth was extracted, and the patient died because, along with the tooth, its connection to the brain and lung was also ripped out.


1123                The toothscrew is invented and used to extract teeth and/or confessions.


1324                John of Gaddesden indicates that the brains of a hare rubbed on the gums will make teeth grow in the mouths of those who lost them. This proves to be a hare-brained idea.


1421                Dental procedures are codified:
“Then the surgeon, keeping the head of the patient firmly between his knees . . . .”


1577                The English invent etiquette:
Pick not thy teeth with thy knyfe,
Nor with thy fyngers ende,
But take a stick, or some clean thynge,
Then doe you not offende.


1596                Elizabeth I’s teeth decay.


1597                Elizabeth eats lots of mint toffee to cure her bad breath.


1598                Elizabeth’s bark becomes worse than her bite.


1599                Sir Richard Dunnfore gives Elizabeth the nickname, “The Pre-Carious Queen.”


1599                Elizabeth gives Sir Richard Dunnfore the nickname, “That Headless Guy with Smoldering Intestines.”


1719                Leewenhoek looks in his microscope and proves that the toothworms are identical to the maggots that infest overripe cheese. His announcement is met with cheesy grins.


1781                Assertions that George Washington had wooden teeth are false. There's not a splinter of evidence. 


1790                5’ 2” Josiah Flagg invents the standard dental chair.


1799                Sir Humphry Davy invents nitrous oxide. Everyone laughs.


1884                Cocaine is used as an anesthetic. Customers return to the dentist office every day.


1893                Edison invents dentist office music, but cocaine remains the preferred prelude to surgery.


1917                X-rays are used to ascertain what’s going on inside the patient’s wallet.


2013                People enjoy natural, healthy teeth until they play ice hockey.